Conditioning for Strength Athletes

The need for conditioning may be obvious when it comes to training soccer players or combat athletes, but what about strength and power athletes? Should individuals who want to build strength and/or muscle mass worry about conditioning, and, if so, what should they be doing? Does training slow really make you slow? I’ll give you the answers to these questions and more in today’s webcast on Conditioning for Strength Athletes


Conditioning for Strength Athletes: Is it necessary?

If your goal is to be a better strength and power athlete, you may have found yourself asking some of these questions:

  • Should I be doing any conditioning? Will it make me smaller or weaker?

And if there is a need for conditioning…

  • Are there any conditioning methods that can actually improve my strength and power?
  • How does conditioning fit into my overall strength training program?

You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that you don’t need to condition and that if you “train slow,” you’ll be slow. But is that really the case?

Let’s look at what the research has to say about whether or not conditioning is all that important:

A number of prospective studies have demonstrated that VO2max, which is directly related to aerobic fitness, is the most important predictor all-cause mortality.

Research conducted by Johnathan Myers showed that study participants who were categorized as having the lowest VO2max value were 4.5 times more likely to die from anything, particularly cardiovascular disease, than those with the highest VO2max levels (Myers, 2003).

Another article reviewing 11 different studies showed that regular physical activity increased life expectancy anywhere from 0.4-4.2 years, but aerobic endurance athletes showed an increased life expectancy of 4.3-8.0 years (Reimers et al, 2012).

Even more important, the review showed that many athletes from different sports often had a decreased life expectancy compared to the average. Think doing all that training is making you healthier and helping you live longer? Well, if you’re not including any conditioning work then chances are that it probably isn’t…

So if you care about your health and want to live past 50, the answer is yes, you should develop a baseline level of conditioning.

The key word here is baseline. You’re not trying to run marathons, so your conditioning goals should be to:

  1. Stay alive so you can keep training and getting stronger
  2. Minimize any interference effect to prevent any loss of potential strength and power gains
  3. Speed up recovery to increase the amount of training that can be done without overtraining

Now that we’ve established that conditioning should be a part of your training, let’s focus on how you can reconcile this with your strength and power goals.

Top 4 Conditioning Strategies for Strength Athletes

There are 4 conditioning strategies that will help you accomplish all of the goals outlined above. The best part is that all 4 strategies can be used for any kind of strength athlete and work together to help improve your strength.

Let me explain how:

Strategy #1: use concentric-focused, low-impact conditioning methods before your strength training sessions.

Incorporating conditioning before lifting has been shown to have a much lower impact on potential strength and power gains that conditioning after lifting.

Concentric-focused, low-impact methods should be used because they will cause less tissue damage and require less repair. This way your body can devote more of its energy resources toward rebuilding tissues that are stressed during strength training rather than during conditioning.

The best way to do this are to do things like:

  • Sled-dragging
  • Versaclimber
  • Swimming
  • Biking

Strategy #2: Include 2-3 active recovery sessions per week to speed up recovery.

Recovery is an aerobically driven process, so incorporating aerobic conditioning into the training week will allow you to do more strength and power work and recover more quickly. This is primarily how conditioning can help improve your strength

It’s important to follow the same principles of strategy #1 by using concentric-focused, low-impact conditioning methods.

Sessions should last around 20-30 minutes with your heart rate getting into the 130-150 bpm range.

Example training methods that fit the bill here include:

Strategy #3: Periodize your conditioning throughout the training year. To peak for competition, decrease your conditioning volume 2-3 weeks prior.

Often times you’ll see that decreasing volume of external work unrelated to your competitive event will correspond to an increase in strength and power.

The further out from a competition you are, the more you can afford to incorporate conditioning work into your training program.

Strategy #4: Develop no more than the level of conditioning for health, wellness, and recovery.

More conditioning is not always better. More conditioning than necessary will prevent you from developing strength and power.

Instead, you want to only condition enough to establish a baseline that allows you to train and recover and will help stave off cardiovascular disease.

Establishing this baseline typically means having:

  • A resting heart rate in the upper 50’s or lower 60’s
  • A BioForce HRV Score in the low-to-mid 70’s

These two numbers can guide your training by telling you how much conditioning you need. These simple guidelines will help you ensure that you’re not overdoing it.

Once you reach these metrics, you can scale back your conditioning to a maintenance level.

Additional conditioning resources

If you’re unfamiliar with the methods I talked about in this webcast/article, my Ultimate MMA Conditioning book or Conditioning Blueprint DVD can help you understand what those methods are and how to incorporate them into your training program.

As promised in the webcast, I’m also including the video from our previous “Strength Hacking with HRV” webinar. The webinar is an excellent resource for your questions about how to build strength using HRV.

You can access both the webinar and the associated weekly strength template by clicking the link below.

Exclusive Bonus: Click here now to get access to the Strength Hacking with HRV webinar replay and downloadable weekly strength template



  1. Thanks for the great information, but I have a question, you said: “Once you reach these metrics, you can scale back your conditioning to a maintenance level.”, so what is maintenance level exactly, I wish if you could give some guidelines about it.

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